It’s all about the EPR, baby! Revisiting the EPR concept, plus is EPR coming to America? Maine’s EPR law makes history, and Oregon’s #2, on The EPR law tip, that is!
All EPR, All the Time. So, What’s EPR? Maine’s EPR Law Makes History, Oregon’s #2, on the EPR Law Tip That Is!
A PRIMER ON EXTENDED PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY
In 1990, Swedish academic Thomas Lindhqvist created the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) as a strategy to decrease the environmental impacts of manufactured products. He proposed making manufacturers responsible for the goods’ entire life cycles – especially for takeback, recycling and final disposal.
Call it, “polluter pays.” In the current business model, the end user-we the consumer—are pegged as “the polluter” because it’s up to us to dispose of packaging trash. EPR flips the script on the current business model and designates the manufacturer as the polluter and puts the onus of recycling packaging and other materials back on them.
It’s an idea not without precedent. In most developed municipalities, the entity that supplies drinking, bathing and toilet water for homes and businesses is responsible for cleaning it up after you shower, flush and water your gardens before that water is returned to nature or returned to service.
Why does EPR matter to us?
EPR ties into the concept of the circular economy– an economic system of closed loops in which raw materials, components and products lose their value as little as possible. Think repair, reuse, refurbish, recycle. If manufacturers were responsible for the product as well as its packaging and shipping, the theory holds that they would design innovative, easily recyclable packaging and shipping materials. Under the current system, there’s no incentive for that aside from the gauzy one of “environmental stewardship.”
Look, until the cost of protecting Nature is a widely agreed upon as a real cost of doing business, it’s still just voluntary. Mandating Extended Producer Responsibility is one way to break up the “take-make-dispose” model of LINEAR economy– while forcing the adoption of the CIRCULAR economy.
EXTENDED PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY COMING TO AMERICA?
On the one hand, EPR is a radical concept. On the other hand, when you think of it as “pick up after your dog,” but for product manufacturers, it makes perfect sense. EPR has already been adopted by 40 countries around the world, including Canadian provinces. But will it fly here in America?
New York State senator Todd Kaminsky and state assemblyman Steve Englebright sure hope so. And that’s why they’re climate champions. Last winter, Kaminsky and Englebright introduced a bill to legislate EPR as a way to increase recycling in New York State, and to help protect the climate.
Bill S.1185C would require packaging producers in the state to pay for recycling. IOW, producers would be required to finance the recycling of their paper products and packaging materials but also would be rewarded for enhancing the recyclability of the items.
If passed, NY state would have one year to approve a “producer responsibility plan.” If the producer generates less than $1 million in annual revenues, or generates less than 1 ton of covered materials or products supplied to New York state residents per year, or operates as a single point of retail sale and is not supplied or operated as part of a franchise, it will be exempt from the requirements. Manufacturers would have three years to comply.
Kate Kurera, Deputy Director, Environmental Advocates NY said, “New York is facing an unprecedented solid waste crisis. Our rivers, fields, and oceans are brimming with plastic waste and our landfills are choked.” She added, “EPR programs hold promise to help unburden local communities, boost recycling efforts and programs, and usher in a new era and way of thinking about the way we live.”
Currently, the bill is stuck in the New York State Senate’s Rules Committee. So if you’re a New Yorker, and you care about the climate, contact your representative now!
MAINE’S EPR LAW MAKES HISTORY
When State senator Todd Kaminsky put forth his EPR bill, New York became the first state to introduce legislation to mandate Extended Producer Responsibility in America. However it was the state of Maine to win the title of “first state to pass EPR into law.”
“An Act To Support and Improve Municipal Recycling Programs and Save Taxpayer Money” was introduced into Maine legislature back in April 2021 by state representative Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth). And it was signed into law by Governor Janet Mills, just in time to celebrate July 4th.
According to Maine’s Department of the Environment, packaging is about 40% of Maine’s waste stream. Maine has had a legislated goal of recycling 50% of its waste stream since the 1980s. Maine’s current reported recycling rate is 36%. “At this point the status quo is just really not working,” Grohoski said in an interview with Waste Dive—a website providing insight into the most impactful news and trends shaping waste & recycling.
A far-reaching component of the new Maine law is that called, “eco-modulation.” The approach would require producers to pay higher recycling fees for products that are harder to recycle or don’t use recycled content. “We’re really trying to use this policy to incentivize not just less packaging but also better packaging,” Grohoski added.
Fees collected would be based on the amount and type of packaging used in the state, and they would be distributed to municipalities to support recycling programs or education. Currently, municipalities are paying higher costs to manage packaging, and those costs are carried over to taxpayers, she said.
OREGON’S #2, ON THE EPR LAW TIP, THAT IS!
We’ve got to give a shout out to the state of Oregon, which became the nation’s second state to require producers of packaging, paper products, and food service ware (consumer brands) to share responsibility for supporting effective recycling programs across the state.
Oregon’s Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act was signed by Governor Kate Brown just a month after Maine’s Governor Janet Mills did the same. Oregon will establish a producer responsibility program for packaging, printing and writing paper, and food serviceware. Producers will join producer responsibility organizations (PROs), which will administer producer responsibility programs on behalf of their members.
The new packaging EPR program will reduce the impacts of waste on the environment and human health, keep plastics out of rivers and oceans, and take steps toward addressing the inequitable impacts of waste system on vulnerable communities.
OREGON’s bill is notable for including a wide range of recycling system changes beyond EPR. It creates and establishes criteria for a materials recovery facility (MRF) certification program, contains measures to limit the impact of recovery facilities on surrounding communities, requires recycling facilities to pay workers a living wage, creates a task force to examine recyclability labeling issues, and more.
Said Scott Cassel, CEO and founder of the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) “This new law, “Will provide producers with the financial incentive to make their packaging more sustainable, and local communities with funding for reuse and waste prevention programs.”
And Sydney Harris, policy and programs manager and packaging lead at Product Stewardship Institute added, “It’s encouraging to see the extensive provisions aimed at addressing recycling inequities and environmental justice in Oregon’s new law.” Oregon’s new EPR law goes into effect January 1, 2022.